Back to: Basic Grammar
Articles are mainly used in European languages, but not in Asian languages, which is why many Asian students find them difficult to learn. However, they are an essential part of the English language and cannot be omitted for ease of use.
When we say ‘articles’ what we are talking about is a ‘label’. Some things have labels and some things do not have labels.
When we say ‘a ball’: the ‘a’ is the label for ball. These labels help us to identify what kind of thing we are talking about.
We will first learn indefinite articles. The word “indefinite” means “we don’t know which one” or "any one"
By this we mean that there are many of the things we are talking about, but we are talking about any ‘one’ of them.
John has a blue car. – (There are many blue cars. John has ‘one’ of them).
A bought a new shirt yesterday. (There are many new shirts in the stores),I bought ‘one’ of them).
I ate an orange with my lunch. (There are many oranges. I ate ‘one’ of them).
The doctor called for an ambulance for the sick lady. (There are many ambulances. The doctor called for ‘one’ of them).
Rules for the use of articles in front of nouns.
As you can see from the examples we use ‘a and an’ to label indefinite articles.
We ‘an’ if the noun begins with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u). We use ‘a’ if the word begins with a consonant (b,c,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,q,r,s,t,v,w,x,y,z) or a consonant sound.
There are other rules which also help us know which article to use.
- a + singular noun beginning with a consonant sound: a user (sounds like 'yoo-zer,' i.e. begins with a consonant 'y' sound, so 'a' is used); a university; a unicycle, a European, a use, a unicorn.
- an + nouns starting with silent "h": an hour, an honour, an honouree.
Listen to the pronunciation of the words above and their preceding article. Is it an 'a' or an 'an'?
Practice the following exercise. You have to place either 'a' or 'an' into the gap in each sentence.
Now you have a text to read. Read and place an indefinite article in the gaps.
We use ‘a’ and ‘an’ to introduce a noun into a sentence. This is the first time we talk about it.
They have a dog. (This is the introduction of ‘dog’(noun) into the sentence, so we use ‘a’
Watch the video for more practice in the use of indefinite articles (Crown Academy)
Now we will look at definite articles.
The definite article ‘the’ is used for:
- When there is only one:
The Prime Minster visited Italy last week. The Prince of Wales is heir to the throne.
- When we believe that the person we are talking to knows what we are talking about:
The Eiffel Tower is in Paris.
The weather is really strange at the moment.
He is the tallest boy in the class.
The Amazon is the longest river in the world.
- We have already talked about it before (in our sentence or a sentence before):
There was an accident on my way to work this morning. The accident happened at around 7.45am.
A man was jogging in the park this morning. The man was wearing a red tracksuit.
- Musical instruments:
He plays the drums, the guitar, and the piano. Wow! He is really talented.
- A public service or organisation:
The Police arrested a man last night near my house.
The buses never arrive on time, and the trains are unreliable.
- Countries which follow these rules:
- States - The United States of America
- Islands - The Canary Islands
- A Kingdom - The United Kingdom
- A Republic - The Czech Republic
Other countries do NOT use 'the' in their name.
- There are other examples but for now we will use these examples to practice.
Complete the exercise. Read the instructions first.
Watch the video for more examples of how to use 'the' ( courtesy of SmrtEnglish)
Here are a series of exercises for you to practice using the indefinite article. Once again, may i remind you that YOU MUST USE 'THE' IN ENGLISH. You cannot omit it when it should be used.
This is the end of the lesson.
When you are studying, do not only do the exercises here, also read documents, books, and articles. Look at the way the articles are used in 'real' situations.